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Ray, Nicholas (1911-1979)  
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In 1960, Ray directed King of Kings (released 1961), an epic film of the life of Christ, for Samuel Bronston, whose film operations were based in Spain. Despite his reputation as unreliable, Ray demonstrated notable resourcefulness in coping with the numerous problems caused by a chronic shortage of funds, although he ended up quarreling with many of Bronston's agents in the process.

At the time of its release, critics dismissed King of Kings as just another biblical epic, but film historians now recognize its significant reinterpretation of the genre. Ray's emphasis upon the political and social conflicts in the Holy Land makes the film seem even more relevant today than when it was filmed. Moreover, Ray emphasized the humanity of Christ and depended primarily on the radiant beauty of Jeffrey Hunter in the lead role to evoke his divinity.

Despite the significant difficulties involved in King of Kings, in 1962 Ray agreed to direct another film for Bronston, 55 Days at Peking. From the start of the production, Ray became embroiled in disputes with star Charlton Heston and other members of the cast and crew. Ray's hospitalization following a heart attack in July 1962 was used by the Bronston organization as an excuse to terminate his involvement in the film.

In 1963, Ray opened the restaurant Nikka's in Madrid. Although it became a popular meeting place for young filmmakers, Nikka's lost a substantial amount of money. Until 1969, Ray moved from one European country to another, unsuccessfully promoting a variety of film projects.

Final years

Excited by the American youth movement of the 1960s, Ray decided to return to the United States in 1969. After making a short documentary on an anti-war rally in Washington D.C. on November 15, 1969, he moved to Chicago where he began a full-length movie on the trial of the "Chicago Seven," alleged leaders of the protest at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Ray's loss of sight in his right eye in 1970 has been attributed to stress caused by his intensive work on this film, which he never completed.

While in Chicago, Ray got to know Susan Schwartz, then a student at the University of Chicago. Ray's partner for the rest of his life, Schwartz unofficially became his fourth wife.

Between 1971 and 1973, Ray taught film at Harpur College of the State University of New York at Binghamton. In the later 1970s, he taught classes in acting and film at the New York School of Arts and the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York City. According to all accounts, he was a dedicated and inspiring teacher, who encouraged his students to realize their own independent visions in film.

Between 1971 and 1973, in collaboration with students at Harpur, Ray began We Can't Go Home Again, a very loosely structured, partly autobiographical exploration of the plight of young people in America. After leaving Harpur in 1973, Ray independently continued this project, constantly editing and revising it. Technically complex and innovative, We Can't Go Home Again is composed of several components that are supposed to be shown on several screens simultaneously. Film historians debate whether a definitive version, corresponding with Ray's intentions, exists.

In 1976, Ray began treatment for alcoholism, but it was too late to overcome the devastating impact of many decades of abuse.

In 1977, the director was diagnosed with cancer, and he began painful medical treatments that lasted until his death in New York City on June 16, 1979.

Despite his illness, Ray collaborated in 1978 and 1979 with German filmmaker Wim Wenders on Lightning over Water, intended as a tribute both to Ray's achievements and to their friendship. Completed in 1980 by Wenders, the film provoked controversy because of its blunt depiction of Ray's mental and physical deterioration. However, given his long commitment to truth, Ray probably would have approved of this aspect of the film.


Since the 1990s, Ray has posthumously regained his favorable critical reputation in America, and he is now regarded as a prototype of the independent filmmakers who increasingly have dominated serious movie production in the United States. Within the past few years, there have been major retrospectives of his films at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City (2003), as well as at other prominent cultural institutions.

Undoubtedly, the most famous line from any film by Ray is Johnny Guitar's declaration: "I am a stranger here myself." That line describes Ray's own attitude to the world, as well as the situation of the protagonists in his films. In movies such as Johnny Guitar and Rebel without a Cause, he depicted outsiders who challenged dominant social and gender conventions and who continue to inspire queer viewers in the early twenty-first century.

Richard G. Mann

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Alexander, Paul. Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times, and Legend of James Dean. New York: Penguin, 1994.

Andrew, Geoff. The Films of Nicholas Ray: The Poet of Nightfall. London: British Film Institute, 2004.

Barrios, Richard. Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood from Edison to Stonewall. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Cartier, Marie. "The Butch Woman Inside James Dean or 'What Kind of Person Do You Think a Girl Wants?'" Sexualities 6:3-4 (November 2003): 443-458.

Castiglia, Christopher. "Rebel Without a Closet." Engendering Men: The Question of Male Feminist Criticism. Joseph A. Boone and Michael Cadden, eds. New York, Routledge, 1990. 207-21.

Connolly, Roy, dir. James Dean: The First American Teenager. David Putnam and Sanby Lieberman, producers. ZIV International, 1975. Videocassette.

Eisenchitz, Bernard. Nicholas Ray: An American Life. Tom Milne, trans. London: Faber and Faber, 1993.

Frascella, Lawrence, and Al Weisel. Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making "Rebel Without a Cause." New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.

Granger, Farley, with Robert Calhoun. Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway. New York: St. Martin's, 2007.

Holley, Val. James Dean: The Biography. New York: St. Martin's, 1995.

Houseman, John. Front and Center. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.

Jeffers, H. Paul. Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2000.

Kazan, Elia. A Life. New York: Knopf, 1985.

Lambert, Gavin. "Good-Bye to Some of All That." Film Quarterly 12:1 (Autumn 1958): 25-29.

_____. Mainly About Lindsay Anderson. New York: Knopf, 2000.

Mann, William J. Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969. New York: Viking, 2001.

Moore, Terry L. Twilight and Shadows: The Lesbian Presence in Film Noir. Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, 1998.

Peterson, Jennifer. "The Competing Tunes of Johnny Guitar: Liberalism, Sexuality, Masquerade." Cinema Journal 35.3 (Spring 1996): 3-18.

Ray, Nicholas. I Was Interrupted: Nicholas Ray on Making Movies. Susan Ray, ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Robertson, Pamela. Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.

Russo, Vito. The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies. Rev. ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1987.

Slocum, J. David, ed. "Rebel Without a Cause": Approaches to a Maverick Masterwork. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.

Telotte, J. P. "The Displaced Voice of In a Lonely Place." South Atlantic Review 54:1 (January 1989): 1-12.

Thomas, Bob. Joan Crawford: A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978.

Vidal, Gore. Palimpsest: A Memoir. New York: Random House, 1995.


    Citation Information
    Author: Mann, Richard G.  
    Entry Title: Ray, Nicholas  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated June 26, 2007  
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    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
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